Papier-Mâché is a French word whose literal meaning is chewed/pulped or mashed paper. It is an art technique that uses pieces of paper or pulp bound with adhesives like glue, starch, or wallpaper paste for making various items, of common use, or for decoration.

The origin of Papier-Mâché dates back to Imperial China in 200 AD when the Han Dynasty was ruling. It came to the forefront after the paper was invented. Papier-Mâché works were also found in ancient Egypt, Middle East, Kashmir, and Japan. 

            The use of Papier-Mâché started in Europe in 1725 where it was used in architecture. In America and Mexico, Papier-Mâché sculptures are considered traditional handicrafts. They are known as ‘Cartonería’ or ‘Carton-piedra’ (rock cardboard). Paper boat making was first started in America during the 19th century.

Papier-Mâché requires composite materials for making various items. The main ingredient is definitely paper in its pulped or mashed form, sometimes reinforced with textile. For binding, adhesives like glue, starch, or paste of wallpaper are used. Traditionally, the adhesive is made by mixing water and flour or starch to a consistency of heavy cream. Other adhesives like polyvinyl acetate (PVA) based glue can be used.

There are two methods of Papier-Mâché. They are the Strip method and the Pulp method

Strip Method:
In this method, the artists cut the paper into strips and glue them together with adhesive. It requires a supporting framework or base on which the paper strips are glued. The supporting base can be an armature, skeleton, or simply a mesh of wire or any object that can create a supporting cast. After cutting, artists soak the papers in paste till they are saturated. Then the saturated pieces are placed on the surface of the framework and allowed to dry slowly. If any releasing agent is required, oil and grease can be used. After drying, artists cut the final product into desired shapes, paint them, decorate them and make them waterproof by using water-repelling paint. But before painting, artists must make sure that the glue is fully dried or it can lead to the formation of mold and the product may start rotting from inside. Chances of mold formation can be prevented by adding preservatives like oil or clove in the mixture.

Pulp Method:
In this method, at first artists obtain the paper pulp by soaking and boiling the paper, and then they add the adhesive. This method provides the possibility of shaping the pulp directly in the desired form. The paper is left in water overnight for soaking. Then it is boiled in excess water until the paper breaks down to a pulp. Then artists drain out the excess water, add adhesive and give desired shapes. This method is mainly used for sculpting smaller or simpler objects. 


Historical and Traditional Uses:
Historically, Papier-Mâché was used in different countries for different purposes. In China, Papier-Mâché was used for making warrior helmets, mirror cases, snuff boxes, and ceremonial masks. In Egypt, it was used for making coffins and death masks. In the Middle and the Far East and Kashmir, it was used for making small painted boxes, trays, étagères, cans, and bowls lined with metal. It was used for adding decorative materials on shields and armor in India and Japan.

                             Papier-Mâché was first introduced in Europe in 1540 for making doll heads. Later, in 1725 it became a low-cost alternative to plaster or carved wood architecture. Laminated sheets of paper were treated with linseed oil for producing waterproof panels which were used for making building coach doors. Laminated sheets were also steamed and pressed into various shapes to make chair backs. In Russia, Papier-Mâché had extensive ornamental use.

                           Papier-Mâché was introduced in Mexico during the colonial period for making various church items. Since then, the art has become popular and artists use it for making traditional handicrafts and sculpture known as ‘Carton piedra’. Even today these sculptures and various decorative items are made for certain yearly celebrations like the Burning of Judas during Holy Week and Day of the Dead. 

                         During the 19th century, paper canoe or boat making was introduced in America. The paper used was significantly more stretcher than modern paper and was used for making boat hulls. Paper boat racing shells became a highly competitive game in America during the late 19th century. 

Modern Uses:
One of the most important modern use of Paper-Mâché is in the production of Micarta, a modern-day paper composite where phenolic resins are used for impregnating paper and cotton fabric and curing them under high pressure and temperature for producing laminates. These laminates are used as electrical insulators, printed circuit board substrates and knife handles. 

                         Papier-Mâché is also used for making huge, temporary sculptures called Carnival floats. The basic structure of Carnival floats are made of wood, metal, and metal wire mesh which are covered with paper soaked in glue. After drying, the details are added and then these structures are sanded and painted. They are used as props, themed characters, and scenic elements in various carnivals. 

                           Papier-Mâché also has extensive theatrical and decorative uses starting from making sets, stage, costumes, puppets and room decors.  Contemporary designers are showing more interest in Papier-Mâché art nowadays because it is an eco-friendly technique and its raw materials are cheap and easily available. Adam Frezza and Terri Chiao, the founders of the studio Chiaozza, who is well known for psychedelic sculptures like cartoonish plants and geological formations, are heavily using Papier-Mâché techniques nowadays for making their items. 

The Papier-Mâché art form was introduced in India in the 14th century by Persian artist Mir Syed Ali Hamdani. Since then this craft has blended itself in the Kashmiri culture and Kashmir has now become the cradle of Papier-Mâché art in India.
Mohd Shafi Nagoo is presently one of the stalwart Indian Papier-Mâché artists. He along with his family are dedicated to this art and confident in successfully carrying forward the legacy of this technique. 

The emergence of plastic and other composites has reduced the commercial as well as decorative importance of Papier-Mâché. Also, many local artists are struggling to find their place in the ever-evolving international craft markets. The majority of Indian artists are unable to understand and access the changing market patterns and adapt their products accordingly. It happens mostly because of a lack of funds and less knowledge about modern technologies and online marketing.

To overcome this situation, the need of the hour is to provide marketing and technological education to the artists and support their works with funds so that they can thrive with flying colours. is such a platform that has come forward to their cause by helping them sell their products online, providing the opportunities and exposures they need in the international art and craft market. Since it is also an eco-friendly art form, Papier-Mâché products can be the best replacement for plastic products and so it can become an important tool in environmental protection.


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